Protecting dolphins in the Mekong River – support from the local community is needed
The event is organised by the Commission for Dolphin Conservation and Development of the Mekong River Dolphin Eco-tourism Zone, the Fisheries Administration and WWF, and will attract a crowd of more than 250 people from the Provincial Governor’s Office, NGOs, as well as monks, teachers and students.
Globally important, critically endangered
The Mekong River Irrawaddy dolphin is globally important, yet critically endangered. The dolphin population in the Mekong River has been declining due to human activities in the last few decades especially due to modern fishing practices. Gillnets are particularly dangerous to dolphins and could cause the extinction of this species in the Mekong in the near future.
Through a new dolphin protected area sub-decree the Royal Cambodian Government banned the use of gillnets within the core zones of dolphin habitat over a 180-km stretch of river between Kratie town and the Laos border to prevent the accidental catching of dolphins.
His Excellency Touch Seang Tana, Chairman of the Commission for Dolphin Conservation and Development of the Mekong River Dolphin Eco-Tourism Zone, says that the Government acknowledges the value of the Mekong’s dolphins as a national living treasure, and recognizes the urgent need to protect the remaining population from extinction.
“The dolphins in the Mekong are sacred to the people of Cambodia and are an important source of income for communities involved in dolphin-watching tourism. The Royal Government of Cambodia promotes poverty alleviation through conservation activities,” he says.
“Dear communities along the Mekong River, the Irrawaddy dolphin needs your support for its survival. Commit to protecting dolphins and do not use gillnets within their habitat,” he adds.
Mr Meas Min, Chief of Koh Pdao Village, is aware of the sub decree on dolphin protection and will inform people in his village about its importance, especially the ban of the use of gillnets in dolphin habitat. He will encourage good fishing practices outside dolphin habitat to avoid accidental catching of dolphins and will participate with fishing communities engaged in alternative livelihoods programme implemented by Cambodian Rural Development Team, in partnership with the Royal Cambodian Government and WWF.
“Villagers must be aware that using gillnets in the dolphin habitat is against the sub-decree and can cause serious danger to the remaining dolphins that we need to protect for the benefit of our future generations,” he says.
Entanglement in gill nets is a major cause of Irrawaddy dolphin deaths – a ban on the use of fishing techniques that harm these rare freshwater dolphins will reduce mortality rates.
“The Royal Cambodian Government has taken a big step toward conserving this species and this is a great opportunity for stakeholders all across the country to join together to save the Mekong River dolphin – the smiling face of the Mekong,” says Ms Michelle Owen, WWF’s Acting Country Director.
The ceremony will unveil a signboard calling on local communities to commit to protecting dolphins by not using gillnets within dolphin habitat and will include a blessing of the dolphin and the river by Buddhist monks from Kratie province. WWF will also release a new documentary video about the current status of the Mekong dolphin and the need for support from local communities, the Cambodian people, and international partners to conserve this critically endangered population. The video is available on Youtube Khmer version, English version.
The Commission for Dolphin Conservation and Development of the Mekong River Dolphin Eco-tourism Zone, the Fisheries Administration and WWF are implementing recommendations developed by a panel of national and international dolphin experts who met in Kratie early this year to discuss how best to conserve Mekong dolphins. The recommendations are included in the Kratie Declaration, in which the Dolphin Commission, the Fisheries Administration, and WWF agreed to work together to conserve Mekong dolphins. One of the recommendations is to minimize or eliminate gillnet related mortality through effective law enforcement and monitoring.
The sub-decree signed by Prime Minister Hun Sen on 25 September 2012 includes outright bans on gill nets, fish cages and floating houses within a 180-kilometer safe zone along the Cambodian stretch of the Mekong.
Restrictions on gillnet use can create difficulties for the people who use them to feed their family and make a living. To support these people, WWF has partnered with local government and development agencies to provide alternative livelihood opportunities in communities along the Mekong to mitigate these difficulties and gain support to save the Mekong's critically endangered dolphins. These livelihoods programmes include aquaculture, livestock raising, vegetable growing and community-based eco-tourism to improve food security and generate household income. The programmes include environmental education to help ensure the sustainable use of natural resources by communities living along the Mekong River in Kratie and Stung Treng provinces.